REVIEW: Calendar Girls The Musical at Leeds Grand Theatre

On Wednesday (15th), the star-studded cast of Calendar Girls The Musical opened up their dress rehearsal to pay homage to Yorkshire’s own calendar girls; a group of ladies who stripped off and posed naked (but for carefully placed buns, teapots and other such props) for a Women’s Institute (WI) calendar in memory of one of their husbands.

Not only was the true story set in the heart of Yorkshire, but the critically acclaimed musical first premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre in November 2015 so it is extra fitting that Leeds was the first stop on the musical’s tour. The Yorkshire themed set designed by Robert Jones, complete with rolling hills, a brick wall and a kissing gate, solidified the link.

Stars In Their Eyes

The award-winning production by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth saw famous faces, including Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sara Crowe, Karen Dunbar, Ruth Madoc, Rebecca Storm and Denise Welch reenact the empowering true story.

The weekly church hall WI meeting is central to the heartwarming plot. It’s a safe place where the women are able to come together as kindred spirits, take part in activities and spitball ideas about their next calendar.  Group leader Marie (Fern Britton) is initially against the nude calendar idea, with the other ladies’ also projecting degrees of scepticism and self-doubt.

They all want to be seen as respectable to society and joined the WI group to boost their reputation within the village community, so getting their idea over the line proves difficult and questions soon arise about what it means to be a woman and positive role model in today’s day and age. For example, Cora (Karen Dunbar) is the epitome of traditional, but her need to please only traps her within the shackles of an unhealthy relationship. Even fun-loving Chris (Rebecca Storm) who came up with the calendar concept nearly pulls out after hearing what other people think.

The musical score features applause worthy songs like ‘Mrs Conventional,’ ‘I’ve Had A Little Work Done,’ and ‘What Age Expects,’ all of which are full of raw emotion and link to a facet of a character’s personality. These masterpieces subtly drive the plot forward, cleverly replacing normal dialogue entirely in places.

Eventually, the thought of raising money for charity to honour John (Phil Corbitt), who lost his battle with cancer, prevails. Smashing stereotypes, the women forget their worries and empower themselves during the infamous stripping scene. It is well choreographed and laced with playful comedy, with credit to Jos Houben for the work of art. The cast tease the audience with flashes of skin, but it’s all innocent and the carefully placed props protect their modesty.

Emotional Roller Coaster

The critically acclaimed musical touches on themes of loss, comradery and body confidence, handling all subject matter with the upmost sensitivity. The sub-plots involving the girls’ husbands, sons and daughters offer light relief, but it’s an emotional ride that features highs and lows, but it ends on a positive note when triumph comes from tragedy.

The cherry on top of the performance was when five of the original Calendar Girls were ushered on stage, adorning the sunflower broaches which became the emblem of the group of ordinary ladies who achieved something extraordinary, and joined by both Tim Firth and Gary Barlow.

To date, the girls have raised £5million for the charity Bloodwise, the UK’s specialist blood cancer charity, and will continue to receive monies from this production.

RATING: 9/10

Calendar Girls The Musical is at Leeds Grand Theatre from Thursday 16 August to Saturday 1 September 2018. Book online at or call Box Office on 0844 848 2700

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